Saturday, April 28, 2012

Euro 2012 Preparations- April

Wow, 40 days left until Euro 2012! Time for another update from eastern Ukraine.

First off, some very sad news: if you've been following local events, you probably heard about the bombings yesterday in Dnipropetrovsk (a large city about 220 km from Kharkov). 27 people were injured and so far no one knows the reason for this attack.

That event combined with political happenings (mainly involving those for and against the ex-prime minister) has created a lot of bad publicity. See this article in the Guardian: Ukraine's Chaos Threatens to Engulf Euro 2012.

But preparations go on undaunted. This giant soccer ball appeared overnight (literally, last night) in front of the train station.
The supermarkets have begun selling t-shirts ($30 USD), flags ($4), face paint ($2.50), magnets ($2-$5), flip-flops ($25), hats ($12-$25), anything with space for the logo or colored in blue and yellow.
Advertising and product promotion continue to pop up around the city:
Beer company offering a ticket giveaway
Coca Cola, an official partner, surprise, surprise

Paprika (Italian Restaurant)

Finding ourselves near the ботанический сад metro stop, we decided to try out another local Italian restaurant. By now it may seem like I love Italian food- I don't. At least, no more than other kinds of food. In fact, I'd settle for a big bowl of харчо or a serving of голубцы....yum! Yet there just happen to be about a billion Italian restaurants in Kharkov so we always end up at one. Today, we ended up at Paprika, a local Italian chain that surprisingly doesn't also offer sushi. (If you've been to Ukraine, you know what I mean.)
It was a beautiful day so we took advantage of the outdoor tables:
This was lovely until it became obvious that service didn't extend outdoors. So...
Again, yet another beautifully-decorated restaurant! You could probably find that phrase 10 times in this blog, but Ukraine really does take the cake for interior design. Back in the states D's mom always scoffed at going out to a restaurant: "Why pay all that money if no one's going to get dressed up and there's no orchestra? I'd rather stay at home!" I didn't understand her comment back then, but I think I do now. Going out for a meal is more of a special event here. I think people have higher expectations of the dining environment while in America we care more about the quality of service and plate size and hardly look at the walls.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Switch on Ukraine

Here's a beautiful video of Ukraine (promo for the Euro 2012 soccer match):
What do you think- does this video inspire you?

PS: Of course there are already a ton of parody versions out there, like this one. The guys on this show claim that the original ad cost 4 million to make...could that be true?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Take It Outside

It's the final week of the semester. The sun is high in the sky. The playful spring breezes draw all sorts of passerby outside. Why not us too?

This week I experimented with taking my classes outdoors. It's been a longtime goal of mine to do this. We did it back in Alaska occasionally. It seemed especially important for those classes as they were life skills English classes. A field trip is mandatory when you're teaching someone to go grocery shopping, use the bus, or open a bank account. But what about when it comes to grammar? All of the sudden- field trips and excursions are forgotten. Lessons resolve entirely around the classroom. I want to change this.

As English teachers we always try to incorporate the outside world into the classroom: bringing in authentic target language materials, role-playing real life situations, etc. What about also incorporating the classroom into the outside world?

Dolphins in Kharkov

Several weeks ago a student passed along these buy-one-get-one tickets to Kharkov's dolphinarium. I'd never been to a dolphinarium before and it sounded like the perfect plan for a rainy Friday afternoon because seriously, is there anything cooler than dolphins and the Russian language? Ah, no. There's actually nothing cooler than this, especially when you add in loud techno music.

We got off at the wrong metro stop, which lead to a nice walk through the rain in the center of the city. Check out some of the amazing architecture in this part of town:

Dolphinarium Nemo is located inside Shevchenko Park, which was pretty cool to hurry through in the rain.
Мир дельфинариев Немо
I really enjoyed the show. It opened with the antics of some very energetic sea lions. The sea lions appeared to have only one oar in the water, haha, but they were sure excited to be there! Then came the dolphins. They were everything I had hoped for: sleek, fast, clever. There was lots of leaping about, balancing things, fetching, making dolphin sounds, and even a scene where one dolphin took a paint brush in his mouth and created a "picture" on a piece of paper. Here's a short video so you can see some of this for yourselves. This is the first time we've ever tried to edit together a video, so please bear with us... and keep the volume down on your computer. Anyways, the Kharkov Dolphinarium in under 3 minutes!:

Here's a higher quality video that someone else has posted on YouTube.

D looked suspiciously sleepy during the show. This was surprising because he loves dolphins. I kept asking him if he was okay and he kept slowly nodding yes. A couple days later we realized that instead of a vitamin, I'd given him a sleeping pill that morning. Oops! :p

Dolphinarium Nemo offers an oceanarium for an extra $5 each. The oceanarium doesn't seem like much at first. The top floor is filled with aquariums and a couple portholes into the depths of the dolphin tank. There is, however, a second and deeper floor. You access this level by descending down an Indiana-Jones-lost-temple staircase. I like the lower lever because it echoes a submarine's design. It's a chance to feel like Captain Nemo, except maybe younger and less moody : ) There's also a viewing area to watch nature films, a terrarium area (turtles, insects, etc.) and several small sharks.

Want to see it for yourself? The 50-minute day show is offered daily at 12 PM, 3 PM, and 6 PM for 80 grivna ($10). The 2-hour "romantic" night show happens every Saturday evening at 9 PM (120 gr/$15). The oceanarium is open from 10 AM to 8 PM most days. There are other options like swimming with the dolphins or posing for a photo with the dolphins for exorbitant prices. An Italian restaurant and the Hotel Nemo are also housed in the same building so you could really make a weekend of this by staying overnight. Have fun!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Зелений гай and the ☭ metro stop

Church of the Holy Martyr Alexander, проспект Косиора. I guess any day that ends with a view like this can't be too bad!
Following up with the test, today I sat on the edge of our couch/bed, anxiously biting my nails for about 20 minutes, and then finally took action. The results remain to be seen... but I feel like a weight has lifted.

My friend Tanya invited me out to her side of town this afternoon. She lives near Proletarska, the final metro stop on one end of the red line. Tanya had a lot of warnings about her part of town... but I quite liked it, starting with the metro stop itself.
This is my new fav metro stop. It looks really serious and imposing, made of marble in rather somber shades. And it's got the everywhere, so cool! Obviously looking at USSR stuff never ever gets old.
Tanya and I wandered through зелений гай. Or rather, we walked for a while, then found a bench and started drinking beer.
Green Park (or possibly Green Grove? I think it's Ukrainian)
A nice day to be in the woods
Even though every other person in the park had a beer (or a baby stroller. or both.) we were super nervous about drinking in public. Like I mentioned before, it's technically against the law. And once upon a time my work colleagues and I were sharing a very grown-up meal of Thai takeout and a bottle of wine in a coastal park in Anchorage, Alaska and the bike cops busted us for the wine like we were on a King Kong drinking rampage of destruction, so I don't have good memories of parks and low-content alcoholic beverages. But Tanya and I were fine. There was one stomach-fluttering moment when some cops walked by, but nothing happened. We're probably the only people in Kharkov who freak out about this.

Since this park includes several amusement park rides, we paid 10 grivna ($1.25) to get a bird's eye view from an old Ferris wheel. The rest of the rides appeared to be for kids, although there was a tempting trampoline area.
The area around зелений гай park is full of nice residential neighborhoods. It was different than all other parts of Kharkov that I've seen. In fact, it almost seems American. I really enjoyed walking through this part of town.
Lots of homey brick buildings here
We ended our night with a meal at Tanya's apartment. Tanya is an English teacher. She has penpals all over the world and speaks amazing English. She's also a purveyor of secondhand shop books, a.k.a. a real lifesaver! While the Kindle courageously served its function through many trips and, uh, completely accidental drops, it recently suffered a fatal fall and has been laid to rest. Tanya's books now keep me going on those days when I crave a good read in my native tongue. She sent me home today with a new book; in the thirty odd minutes it took me to reach home I had already devoured forty pages!

All in all, a pretty wonderful afternoon. I hope that you, my dear readers, are having a fantastic weekend of your own!

PS: Click here to see Зелений гай in winter!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pizza Maranello

Another pizza review? Yes, guilty as charged :p This time a quick review for Pizza Maranello. This popular Italian restaurant is not far from the candy-cane striped Annunciation Cathedral (although there are other locations around town.) If you're fast enough you can grab a seat in the outdoor seating area along the concrete banks of the Lopan river, otherwise there's usually space available inside the restaurant. Another option would be to grab a pizza to-go and walk over to a park bench.

Here are a couple shots:
Lopan River
The pizza: nothing too fancy, nonetheless tasty!
The average nighttime crowd. Restaurant has since been remodeled and looks a little fancier.
You can order a half pizza for around 20 grivna ($3) or a whole pizza for about 40 grivna ($5). The menu also offers other Italian salads and dishes, but I've stuck with pizza each visit. A 1/2 liter cup of beer will set you back about 10 grivna ($1.50). 777-03-04 is the number...and it looks like they may do delivery. If you want to go there in person, Maranello is a ten-minute walk from either the Central Market or Radiyanska metro stops. Look for a narrow green-roofed building just off Poltavskiy Shlax (highway). And oh, the giant pizza on the roof : )
Today, by the way, must have been under-age drinking day. At Pizza Maranello we watched three kids dare each other to take sips of their moms' beers. The kids were about 8 years old and since the moms were in a long line for the ladies room, the drinking dare eventually ended in a cup of beer tipping over and spilling on the floor. After dinner we took a long walk along Poltavskiy Shlax and passed a group of grown-ups hanging out on the street. A toddler was loitering on the edge of their group, tilting a can up to his mouth and trying to get the last drops out of one of those alcohol/energy drinks. His parents had probably finished the drink and given it to him to play with. For some reason this all reminded me of being back in university and seeing recruitment ads for resident advisors (students who live in the dorms and supervise other students, aka RAs). The ads showed a glass with a golden beverage with the words "beer or apple juice? you decide." If you hadn't already guessed, one of the main responsibilities of an RA is to crack down on underage drinking. One of my friends came from England at age 20 and got busted for drinking in the dorms... and sent to anti-alcohol training as part of her punishment. Kind of silly considering that in England she was already well above legal age to drink. In fact, the whole thing seems kind of silly to me now. I'd love to see what an RA would do if they saw what I saw tonight- an RA who usually busts 18-year-olds drinking beer, what would they do with an 8-year-old?!

The Test

Do you ever get the feeling that the universe is testing you?

I'm trying to sit down and actually work out what's wrong, but can't connect the dots. On a bad day I come home covered in a fine powder of chalk- smudges on black pants, dust on my lips. I've probably lost my temper in class, usually in snide little ways, comments that thankfully go over heads. Six continuous hours of teaching can be like six straight hours of being on stage, six hours of smiling, singing and dancing, signing autographs with a smile or just as many hours of dodging rotting tomatoes. No, no, it's not like that at all. Maybe it's better put this way: six hours of supervising construction work. Sure, other people can do it but you'd still better keep an eye on them. I watch life going by outside the windows. People, places, warm spring air, green leaves getting bigger every day. I used to enjoy this job! Rainstorms, snowfall, construction, arguments. Things change in the school: new floors, torn wallpaper, fresh cracks in the blackboard, remodeled window frames, yet every day it's the same routine. I feel like life has been an exercise in futility the past month. The past couple of entries may look shiny, but they actually document a search. The past month?- there was no purpose in being in Ukraine. If life is to just consist of work, home, work, home, weekend, why do it in a city near the Russian border? For minimum wage? Why not venture on to Phoenix? Or Sacramento? Why not back to Honolulu?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shashlik in the spring

My friend Pasha had a birthday this week and decided to celebrate with a picnic. Have you ever been on a picnic in Russia or Ukraine? Tradition dictates that at any picnic you must make shashlik (шашлык, shish-kebab). Not making шашлык would be like visiting the moon and not bringing oxygen. It's mandatory.

We had our picnic in Sarzheen Ravine near the Botanical Garden metro stop. Last weekend this was a barren, wintery park. This week the trees were already boasting green tips and patches of luscious "lie-down-in-me" grass. What a difference seven days can make!

Since the set-up took a long time (met at 11:30 AM, picked up supplies at the grocery store, walked and walked and finally chose a spot in the park), my friends immediately spread out a blanket and announced "Давайте перекусим", or "let's have a bite!"
Note: 5 kinds of salad, most involving meat or mayonnaise.
Next Pasha, our master шашлык-chef and the birthday boy, went to work.
 A picnic in Ukraine is an all-day affair. D (who unfortunately couldn't make it today) had told me this but I didn't really believe it. Now I do! We spent a long time just hanging out, playing volleyball, drinking wine, and enjoying each other's company.

In fact, as I was leaving at 6 PM, the others pulled out a pack of Mafia cards. I think I've mentioned this game before; it's very popular and it involves psychology and murder. It can take a long time so I have no idea what time the picnic will formally end. Everyone said "Я не спешу", I'm not in a rush, and I wish I had been able to feel that way too.

Perhaps because today is (Orthodox) Easter, or perhaps just because it's spring, the park was FILLED with other picnickers. At one point I counted TWELVE other picnics going on around us. One of the groups closest to us looked like a group of teenagers. I'm definitely getting old because I thought "Their parents let them go out together with vodka and a hookah?!" :p They were probably first or second year university students. There was another group not far from us that looked like they were -stan students (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, etc). And I saw one of my students from China picnicking with a group of other Chinese students. Kharkov is truly an international city. Also a city of law-breakers, haha. Apparently you're not supposed to have open flames or drink alcohol in the park, but do you think anybody follows those rules? I was told that the police were off having beer somewhere, so we'd be okay on both counts.

Common topics of conversation included, of course, Ukraine and America. Once I read that if you ever come to Ukraine, you should bring lists of information (salaries, etc) and I whole-heartedly agree. One of Pasha's friends was a very curious guy: How much does an MBA cost? How long does it take to fly from LA to NYC? Why do rappers and gangs fight each other? If you walk down a street in Harlem or Queens, will you get beat up? This is why I wish I had Google in my head! To be fair, I did ask Pasha (he's a food chemist) if eating too much sausage was truly bad for my health.

After eating all the шашлык we toasted with champagne and ate Easter cake. Yes, this means I have consumed massive quantities of cake in the past 2 days! I guess that is why it's only made once a year.
Remember this stuff?
In conclusion, it was a quite an experience! If anyone invites you on a Ukrainian picnic, say да! Or uh, так if you're in Western Ukraine :P

I'll leave you with this Easter poem (it's cuter in Russian cuz it rhymes):

Шкварчит мяско на сковородке
потеют 2 бутылки водки
уже посвячена колбаска-
ну, наливай, сегодня ПАСХА!
The meat is crackling in the pan
2 bottles of vodka are sweating
the sausage was already blessed-
well, pour a shot, today is EASTER!

Spring Cleaning and Sadness

If early spring can be defined as chaotic weather patterns of misery and bliss, then winter ended weeks ago! I took the following back in March- one minute it was like this:
The next minute, like this:
I've tried to do a little spring cleaning lately. Just like the debris of winter has melted off the sidewalks, I want to clear our apartment of the clutter of winter. One of the biggest piles of clutter to go was our water tower. This had been a source of pride all winter (how high can it go? uh yes, we really are that childish!) but at last we finally reached the point where it could go no higher.

All winter long we'd been buying water from the grocery store. Friends kept advising us to instead buy water from the water trucks, as it's about half the price, and we finally switched over to this method. The water trucks come a couple of times every week. I think there's some kind of schedule or- if your building faces the street- you can just listen for the honk and then go downstairs with a couple of empty bottles. We've been getting rid of the excess empty bottles in small batches. Fortunately there is a small plastics recycling area near our building. Usually, though, after we put the empty containers in the cage they get salvaged by a babushka. We first figured this out because we could hear it happen as we walked away. Now people don't even wait. If I walk towards the recycling bin with empty bottles, I'll hear "Девушка, чистые они у вас, баклашки?" Miss, are those bottles clean? and people will immediately confiscate them. What do they do with all these bottles?

Part of the cleaning effort was to clear and calm my mind. Recently I've felt really stressed out by one thing or another. I've realized that as soon as one problem passes, another one comes, which is life of course. You hardly ever have a clear path in life. Or as Euripides said "Happiness is brief. It will not stay. God batters at its sails." Most of this semester was pretty unpleasant for me. So unpleasant, actually, that I seriously considered quitting. Now things have settled, but someone else quit and the rest of us teachers will have to cover those extra classes until the semester ends. Even though I've been having some nice weekends with friends lately, emotionally I'm still in the heart of winter, hibernating... and don't know why.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Easter!!!

Surprise, surprise: just like the winter holidays, you may think it's over but it's not! Easter in Ukraine falls on Sunday, April 15th so while my friends in America have already gone to church (or just hunted for eggs and stuffed themselves with candy) and are gearing up towards Cinco de Mayo and Mother's Day, people here are preparing to celebrate the holiday this weekend.

Or continue celebrating, maybe. I'm no Orthodox Easter expert but there's definitely been a lot of hullabaloo going on recently. Last weekend grandmothers were on every corner, selling candles and branches. The willow branches appear to be a substitution for the palm fronds that I remember seeing in church as a child. Anyways, this weekend it's Easter cakes and brilliantly colored fake flowers. I think the flowers are for visiting the graves of relatives. As for the cakes, all I can say is that they are MEGA-TASTY and thank you, D, for buying 4 of them! It just wouldn't be Easter without a large dose of sugar.
Cost: about 90 cents
with raisins!
These can be cut and wrapped around hardboiled eggs; dip them in hot water and they'll shrink to fit. A lot of them have the letters ХВ for "Christ has risen".
This blue truck is stuffed with Easter bread.
Another woman selling Easter bread, this time out of the yellow crates.
If you'd like more info and a quick Russian lesson, I'd recommend Transparent Language's excellent blog entries on this topic:
Celebrating Russian Easter
Even More About Russian Easter

С праздником Пасхи! Happy Easter!

Update: Easter 2013